BRADENTON -- It was considered a play-in match.
But Saint Stephen's meeting with Imagine School of North Port on Monday in the opener of the Class 3A-District 10 volleyball tournament had trap match written all over it.
The Falcons, the fourth seed, were good enough to tie for second in the five-team district and sweep the Sharks twice during the regular season. Had they looked past fifth-seeded Imagine and toward Cardinal Mooney, which awaited the winner in Tuesday's semifinal, it would have been understandable.
That didn't happen.
Instead the Falcons beat the Sharks 3-0 and return to Bradenton Christian, the tournament host, 5 p.m. Tuesday for a meeting with Cougars.
The Panthers and Out-of-Door Academy play 7 p.m. in Tuesday's other semifinal. Tuesday's winners advance to Thursday's championship match as well as next week's regional tournament.
"I told them, 'We have to stay focused on the team that's on the other side of the net,"' said Falcons coach Shameka Walker, whose team improved to 9-7. "We can't look past any team. ... I think they did a good job staying focused and taking care of the ball on our side of the net."
Saint Stephen's won 25-16, 25-15, 25-13. It was its first match at Bradenton Christian since losing to the Panthers on Oct. 7 in five games.
"It boosts the girls confidence. This is a ladder and this is the first step we've achieved," Walker said. "We're not looking past any team. The last time we were in this gym, it was a very emotional game. And the better team won."
Kassandra Woodruff had a big night for Saint Stephen's on Monday, totaling 12 kills, five aces and eight digs. Bryce Liebel had 27 assists and six digs and Sophie Bilik added 10 kills and nine digs.
The Falcons are now free to focus on the Cougars, who went 6-0 in district play to earn the tournament's top seed.
"It's going to be a tough match," Walker said. "We have to play our game and we need to play good defense and be aggressive and play smart volleyball. Again, Cardinal Mooney is a great team...No matter who our opponent is, we have to stay focused."
NORTH PORT 3, PALMETTO 0 -- Once the Bobcats got rolling, there was no stopping them during a sweep of the Tigers by scores of 25-17, 25-15 and 25-16 in the Class 7A-District 10 quarterfinal at North Port.
With the win, the No. 4 Bobcats (13-13) advance to face top-seed Lakewood Ranch at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
North Port came into the match with confidence, having swept the No. 5 Tigers at home Oct. 7.